Counselling – what is it, what can I expect and how do I find the right counsellor for me?

The aim of counselling is to help a client develop a healthy sense of self, understanding their issues with clarity and respond appropriately.

Firstly, what is Counselling?

Counselling is sitting with a counsellor who is qualified to actively listen to your story and the difficulties you have, with empathy and understanding.   This counsellor listens and repeats back to you, your concerns, so you get to hear on the ‘outside’ what has probably been going round and round in your head.  This can be hugely illuminating for the client who hears, for themselves, their story.   In this form of counselling the therapist does not add anything, but uses the client’s words to mirror back.   This is referred to as ‘person centred counselling’ and a useful resource is Carl Rogers work, such as ‘On Becoming a Person’.

From this starting point there are many different views about counselling. The focus of this blog is working with people from a humanistic perspective. Humanistic counselling focuses on self-development, growth and responsibilities and seeks to help individuals recognise their strengths, creativity and choice in the ‘here and now’. If you are interested in a more analytic view then you could search separately, or look here

As counselling has developed, most counsellors now do more than mirror back to the client what the client has expressed. They will still mirror back, but are also trained to have an understanding of the client’s dilemma, so might ask questions, or discuss other options the client might try.  This form of counselling can be psycho-educational, with the client learning more about their specific difficulty and how they might approach it differently.  Many counsellors are familiar and use the structures and skills of a selection of humanistic approaches.

Over the counselling period – which could be an agreed number of 6 sessions (short term) or more open ended with the client and therapist agreeing what’s appropriate to their personal needs (longer term) – the client can try out different approaches. They can understand how their history has affected them, learn new skills, and often the client is introduced to articles or books to read which may be useful. We have a full reference list available in our next blog.

What does counselling cover?

Counsellors work to help a client express the way they approach life, how they function within their world and what they need to help them find a good outcome. Therapists work with clients with addictions; those experiencing grief and loss or serious physical illness. They work with those diagnosed with mental health issues, or clients with relationship problems. Stress, anxiety and low self-esteem are common in the fast-paced 21st century, and counselling can offer the freedom to express anger and frustration. For those who have experienced trauma – whether recent or historical – counselling provides the space to explore the complex feelings surrounding the incident.

Who goes for counselling?

Anyone can go for counselling

  • you can go on your own, known as individual counselling and this is what most counsellors and therapists offer
  • with your partner, whether you are married or not, known as marriage guidance, couples or marriage counselling, relationship counselling, couples or marriage therapy – therapists and counsellors have a specialist training for working with couples
  • Children and teenagers – a specialist area with counsellors and therapists have additional training and qualification, you can check on their website
  • Family therapy where a number or all family members attend. Counsellors and therapists who offer family therapy will have this on their website
  • Work mentoring/counselling where people are having difficulty at work and want to understand more of their part in it, and to look at what they would like, and where they would like to be. Check with a counsellor whether they offer this
  • Pairing counselling where two or more people want to talk through an issue or issues. This may be a group of friends or work colleagues.  Check with a counsellor whether they offer this
  • Business mentoring where an individual or group want to work on their relationships to improve communication or work through a difficulty

Whats the value of seeing a professional counsellor, over chatting with a friend or family member?

A lot!   A qualified counsellor listens to you, without prejudice or pre-conceptions, which enables you to unfold your own story, from your perspective, and at your own pace. They are objective and have no pre-conceived or personal agenda.

Their work is to support you to find what would work best for you, and help you look at difficult and previously unexplored areas.

People who feel they can trust their counsellor are able to open up discussions and give information, possibly for the first time.  This can be a huge relief.

There are so many different types of counselling how do I decide?

Within the Humanistic field of counselling there are a few main approaches which developed in the 1960’s, and most approaches were developed by an individual and their team. Prominent figures of the movement are Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers (the founder of person – or client-centred counselling) and Fritz Perls (the founder of gestalt therapy).

Our next blog will cover in more detail the theories you can research.

Importance of the therapeutic alliance

The importance of how you get on with your counsellor – whether you feel safe and trust them, whether you feel that they understand how you feel, and appreciate what you want from your counselling – is equal to, or more important, than the exact approach of the counsellor.   

How do I find a counsellor for myself?

When looking for a private counsellor first and foremost check they are registered. This means that they have completed full training to work with people and are committed to their own professional development.

There are two main organisations: The UKCP (UK Council for Psychotherapy) and the BACP (British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy).

There are many counsellors working and it’s worth taking the time to find someone who is professionally qualified and upholds a transparent and ethical framework.

Both the UKCP  and the BACP  have a ‘find a therapist’ function on their websites.

You can access the services offered by the NHS via your GP.

There are also a number of charities and organisations who offer counselling, with some examples here:

What should I ask a counsellor before I meet them?

In my experience people want to know that the counsellor is familiar with the issues they want to explore and comfortable to work with them. You can ask the counsellor before you fix an initial session. Having an initial assessment session is often a good way for you to find out how the counsellor works and whether you find it useful. Initial sessions are for both parties to see if there is a good fit.

Often people ask how long or how many sessions they will need. It’s important at this stage to be clear about what your expectation is and how affordability is going to affect the number of sessions. From a counsellor’s perspective, sometimes people want to come for a limited period of time but want the experience of having a longer term growth. This is an issue counsellors are familiar with talking through with their clients.

Remember if it’s not working you can stop – some people feel that if they start they will not know how to end the sessions if they feel it’s not working for them without offending the counsellor.

Jane Gotto

About Jane Gotto

Jane Gotto is a UKCP registered counsellor and psychotherapist who has been working with individuals, couples and groups and supervising other psychotherapists and counsellors, since the mid 1990’s. Jane founded and runs The Terrace humanistic psychotherapy and complementary heath centre in Taunton, Somerset (, where she practices with an eclectic group of practitioners and is one of a team of six counsellors and psychotherapists, who work together, but maintain their own individual way of working. All are fully qualified, accredited and registered with the UKCP, BACP or the British Psychological Society.

Jane works at Spectrum Therapy ( where she co-leads ongoing post graduate continuation groups, on an annual basis.

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